Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching

Part I: Emotional Engagement

Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching banner
By Christina Cavage

English language educators are bridge builders. We build bridges not only between people and their goals, but also between people. Language is all about connecting with others. When we learn a language, we are opening ourselves up to those personal connections.  Our entire field is centered around connecting and communication. If you are like me, you probably gave very little thought to that pre-COVID. But, how about in our COVID world? How can we build those bridges when there are walls, borders and oceans between us? As I am planning my course for the Spring term, I can’t help but reflect on how I can be that bridge builder. How can I connect my students to others when it’s challenging for us to connect? Or, when my old ways of engaging learners do not translate in this new medium? It’s important to define engagement in this new environment of remote instruction. What is it? Why is it so critical to student success? And, how can I build it? Before we look at how we can build engagement in our ELT classes during this new COVID age, let’s examine what engagement is.

What is Engagement?

Engagement in learning is about “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” This engagement involves behavioral engagement—are our students participating? Are they working in groups effectively and efficiently? Then we have cognitive engagement—are they interacting with content and applying the new content? Are they developing autonomy? And, emotional or affective engagement—are they motivated? Do they see relevance in what is being studied? Are they comfortable in the learning environment?

Emotional Engagement

Now that our learning environments look quite differently, how can we build and assess engagement? Well, as ELT educators we are very cognizant of the importance of emotional engagement.  We know our students need to feel comfortable to take those language risks. We have spent a lot of time thinking and designing lessons that lower that affective filter– making students more comfortable in the classroom. Thinking of my old ways of teaching, this may have involved ice-breakers and small group or pair introductions. What does that look like today when I can’t easily pair students, or I have some students online and some face-to-face? How does that happen when we move to a digital or hybrid model of teaching?

Strategies to Build Emotional Engagement

It’s all about leveraging the tools we have. And, on the upside, there are many benefits.  Often times that ‘everyone is looking at me’ intimidation goes away in a virtual or digital environment, and students feel freer to share and engage.

Strategy #1: Build a Community before class begins. If you are using an LMS, such as Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle or Google Classroom, consider posting a video of yourself describing your interests, expectations, etc. Ask your students to submit a video of their own. Then, begin class by asking follow-up questions, or noting individual interests. Pair students up by interest. Create a task where students ask targeted questions. “I saw you play soccer. How often do you play?” They can then introduce their partner to the class that extends upon what the video included.

Post a video introducing yourself
Post a video introducing yourself

Strategy #2: Hold a Coffee/Tea hour. This should be an informal open house type of meeting where students can drop by virtually and ask questions about culture or language.

Strategy #3: Use Collaborative Tools. Consider using collaborative tools like Nearpod. The collaborative board within Nearpod allows learners to share their ideas, see everyone’s ideas and even like one another’s ideas.

Collaborate! activity in the Nearpod platform
Collaborate! activity in the Nearpod platform

Strategy #4: Think-Pair-Share/Zoom. Rather than immediately putting students in a breakout room, and giving them tasks, give students time to think. Model what you expect to happen in the breakout room. Assign pairs via Zoom breakout rooms and have them share in their rooms. Providing students time before you open breakout rooms, allows for students to better use their pair time, and be on task while in the breakout room.

Strategy #5: Races. Students love competition whether online or face-to-face. These races can also serve as great formative assessments. Consider grammar. Create a Powerpoint with common errors, then have students race to type in the correct answers. Or, if teaching vocabulary, put a sentence up with a missing vocabulary word. Provide students choices (A, B, C) and then have them type in the correct choice. For quick formative assessments, have students use the thumbs up or other reaction tool to indicate if something is correct or not. My favorite is the Time to Climb in Nearpod. Students can choose their avatar and you set the time limit. Students answer questions and race up a hill. They are awarded points by both their correct answer and how fast they answer. These races build community and you will find students ‘talking’ about these races for weeks to come.

In summary, moving learning online isn’t easy. It takes thoughtful planning and careful execution. However, there are numerous tools out there that can help build that engagement. Well-planned digital and hybrid lessons can even be more emotionally engaging to students today. Stay tuned for next month when we will look at strategies to build behavioral engagement.

References:

Student Engagement Definition. (2016, February 18). Retrieved January 05, 2021, from https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/


Christina Cavage is the Curriculum and Assessment Manager at University of Central Florida. She has trained numerous teachers all over the world in using digital technologies to enhance and extend learning. She has authored over a dozen ELT textbooks, including University Success, Oral Communication, Transition Level, Advanced Level, Intermediate Level and A2. Recently, Ms. Cavage completed grammar and academic vocabulary curriculum for the new Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, which is now available. Learn more here.

5 Halloween-Themed Activities for Your Young English Learners

image of pumpkins

It’s almost Halloween and the ghosts and vampires will soon be coming out to play! Did you know that although we often associate Halloween with pumpkin carving and eating candy, the festival has much older origins?

Samhain is an ancient Gaelic festival which celebrates the end of the harvest and the start of winter. This is why people often associate the colors of orange and black with Halloween: orange is the color many leaves turn in autumn and black is the color of the darker winter months.

People used to believe that spirits walked the Earth on the night of Samhain. The tradition of dressing up as ghosts and demons started as a way to hide from the spirits who walked the streets. Similarly, people used to leave treats outside their houses for the spirits and from this came the tradition of trick-or-treating.

It’s always fun to engage with students in Halloween activities to get them into the Halloween spirit while they learn English. Even though many programs are teaching remotely during the Covid crisis, we can still engage in fun Halloween activities. Here are a few ideas to get students playing and learning, even when remote.

1. Who or What Am I?

In this activity students will practice using descriptive words and learning Halloween vocabulary. Search images online that include Halloween imagery (jack-o-lantern, pumpkin, ghost, black cat, bat, vampire, etc.) Email each student one picture ahead of the class. During class, give each student one to two minutes to describe their picture to the class without telling others what it is. The student who first guesses the object correctly gets a point. Play until everyone described their object. After each guess is completed, you can show the picture to everyone on your shared screen. The student with the most points wins the game.

2. Pumpkin Oranges

Pumpkin carving is fun – but it’s also messy and pumpkins can be really heavy! Instead, have students use an orange and a black marker! Get them to draw a scary face on their orange and then write a short text describing it. Here’s an example you can share with your students:

pumpkin orange

My pumpkin orange, Ghoulie, has two big eyes. He’s got a small nose and a big mouth, with lots of teeth. This Halloween, he’s going to sit outside my house. He’s going to scare people but he doesn’t scare me! I think he’s very funny!

3. Let’s Play Halloween Bingo!

This is a great activity to review the Halloween vocabulary. Email students a blank bingo board or have them draw one on a piece of paper. Then have them draw Halloween items, one for each box. You might want to give them some ideas, such as ghost, black cat, pumpkin, bat, etc. Then play bingo, calling out different Halloween-related words. Students listen and mark their boards if they have the item that was called out. The first person with five in a row wins the game.

4. Halloween Theater

This activity will let your students be creative while they are practicing modals. Put students in small groups, and give each group a scary scenario. For example: Frankenstein has stolen your lunch. A big black hairy spider is chasing you. A vampire asked you to go for a walk with him. Have the groups discuss what they would do in each situation. Encourage them to use modal verbs (should, could, would). Then have groups share their ideas with the rest of the class.

5. Tell a Scary Story

Have the class create a scary story. Students take turns adding one sentence to the story. For example, Student 1: One night I was home alone when the lights went out. Student 2, All of a sudden, I heard a big bang coming from the basement. Continue until everyone contributed to the story. For a larger class, you might want to put students in groups to work on their story, write it down, and then present to the whole class. You might also want to give students sentence starters or some vocabulary to get them going.

Extend Your Grammar Instruction with Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod

Christina Cavage
By Christina Cavage

What a year it’s been! We are entering a new academic year during unprecedented times. If you are like me, you are looking for ways to deeper engage your learners whether they are sitting in the classroom with you, seeing you via Zoom, or participating in your asynchronous online environment. If we have learned anything this year, we have learned that we have to revisit how we present content, and how students interact with content.  That’s where the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod comes in.

What is Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod

First, let’s review what exactly it is. Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod is a library of lessons on the most critical grammar structures. It includes instruction and engaging practices. The idea behind the delivering it via the Nearpod platform is that it allows you fill in the gaps in grammar teaching in an engaging yet pedagogically sound manner. You can supplement your teaching, whether it be listening, speaking, or writing with these supplemental grammar lessons. However, the greatest thing about this platform is that it allows you, the teacher, to reorganize a lesson, modify a lesson, delete content from a lesson, and even add content and activities to the lessons. Thus, it is truly customizable. In essence, lessons and content can be tailored to your courses’, program’s or students’ needs.

Once you add a lesson to your library, it is yours to modify. You can reorder slides or delete slides you do not need.

Let’s say you want to modify. You can modify existing content by changing questions, adding images, or even altering quiz questions.

Watch this short video to see how you can easily modify content.

By doing so, you can be sure to cover the student learning outcomes (SLOs) in our course. I also often change the names of people to reflect the students in my class! Or, consider modifying by changing the location of places used, or the images. One of my favorite things about the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod is the ability to add your own content and your own activities. There are several options when adding content. Here is a Nearpod’s list.

List of Nearpod activities

There are some great options included in this list. A few of my favorites include Video, Flocabulary Video, Field Trip and Slideshow. If you showed a PowerPoint in class, you can create a slideshow of it, and embed it in your lesson. If you want to engage your students in a particular theme or place, add a Field Trip. These field trips take you to the moon, and around the world. The Flocabulary Video is a great way for students to have video storyboards and share with one another. And, then video. The video option is wonderful because you can add your own created video, or you can search on YouTube and find a video there. In either case, you can embed questions within the video. So, students watch a piece of the video, and then are presented with either an open-ended question or a multiple-choice question. This is a great engagement tool, as well as an excellent way to formatively assess your students.

Lastly, you can also add your own activities. There are several types of activities you can add. You can add collaborative discussion boards, polls, matching, open-ended questions and more. In the end, Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod provides curated content built on sound pedagogy that can be altered to meet your needs.

Watch this short video to see how you can easily add your own content to the course.

Let’s be honest, no one understands the needs of your program, your course and especially your students more than you!

Ready to give the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod a spin? Find out more information at nearpod.com/pearson or contact your dedicated ELT Sales Specialist for a demo at pearsoneltusa.com/reps.

The Value of Repetition

Stacy Hagen
By Stacy Hagen

As teachers, we are trained to focus on activities that are communicative and task-based. Grammar practice, particularly at the sentence level, often brings associations of rote drills and repetition. However, Zoltan Dornyei (2009) points out that communicative language teaching is based on learning by doing and does not look at how people actually learn. Some second language researchers have turned to cognitive science to look at what is happening in the adult brain as we learn, and findings related to memory and skill acquisition have important implications for how we practice the skills.

This article explains the value of repetition in the grammar class.

For a long time, we were taught that repetition was a bad word.  This goes back to the audio-lingual era of drill and kill.  But research from cognitive science tells us that repetition has value. 

First, brain scans show that repetition causes the brain to physically change.  New connections are formed between neurons (think of neurons as information messengers).  And the connections between neurons are thicker, stronger, and more hard-wired.

This helps students retain and solidify what they have learned.  Without a lot of repetition or review, students are less likely to recall what they have learned. 

The trick is to make repetition interesting.  I’m sure you know all these techniques for repetition:

role play

drama techniques

story-telling

pairworks

strip stories

songs/chants

Let me show you another technique to make repetition interesting:  4/3/2.  It works well for the re-telling of a story or an event.   In this exercise from the new edition of the Fundamentals of English Grammar, there are two fables.  Half the class has story A and half the class has story B.

Give students time to learn their story well enough to retell it.  Partner A then tells Partner B the story in 4 minutes.  Next, Partner A tells another student the same story in 3 minutes.  Finally, Partner A has 2 minutes to tell a final person.

Often during the first telling, students voices are very low and the language is halting.  The second time it’s better, but by the third time, the class can become very animated.  It’s a wonderful way to work in repetition and encourage fluency at the same time.

References:

Nation, I.S.P & Jonathan Newton. 2008. Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking. New York: Routhledge.


Stacy Hagen is a teacher, a teacher trainer, and the co-author of the best-selling Azar-Hagen Grammar Series. The most recent edition of Fundamentals of English Grammar is now available. pearsoneltusa.com/azar

Cover of Fundamentals of English Grammar 5E

Reducing Cognitive Load

Stacy Hagen
By Stacy Hagen

As teachers, we are trained to focus on activities that are communicative and task-based. Grammar practice, particularly at the sentence level, often brings associations of rote drills and repetition. However, Zoltan Dornyei (2009) points out that communicative language teaching is based on learning by doing and does not look at how people actually learn. Some second language researchers have turned to cognitive science to look at what is happening in the adult brain as we learn, and findings related to memory and skill acquisition have important implications for how we practice the skills.

This article discusses the concept of cognitive load.

Our working memory (think of this as our immediate memory) has capacity limits.  Basically, we can’t handle as much information as had previously been believed.  New research on learning tells us that students benefit if we can reduce the cognitive load.

Scientist used to think that 5-7 chunks* of information could be held in our working memory.  But new research tells us that two to four chunks are more realistic.  The implication for teachers is that we need to break our explanations into more manageable chunks for our students. In practical terms, one of the things we can do is to introduce less information at one time.  You’ll see this in the fifth edition of the Azar-Hagen Grammar Series.  Long charts have been broken up into smaller ones.  Here’s an example from the Fundamentals of English Grammar, Fifth Edition:

example of a grammar chart with information in manageable chunks

Previously, this introduction to articles was in a two-page chart.  Now there are two new charts, and we have simplified the explanations.  We also use pictures to illustrate the concept of specific and non-specific. This is more manageable and user-friendly for students.

As you will see in the new editions of the Fundamentals of English Grammar and Understanding and Using English Grammar, the presentation of material in the grammar charts helps reduce the cognitive load. Breaking down explanations and exercises into shorter pieces or sub-tasks helps reduce the working memory load, allowing learners to absorb material better.

*A chunk is a single unit.  Think of a phone number.  There are 10 digits or 10 unrelated numbers.  But we can group phone numbers into 3 chunks to make it easier to remember.

References:

Dornyei, Zoltan. 2009. The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Stacy Hagen is a teacher, a teacher trainer, and the co-author of the best-selling Azar-Hagen Grammar Series. The most recent edition of Fundamentals of English Grammar is now available. pearsoneltusa.com/azar